SALT LAKE CITY — The plan was simple: Give the ball to Donovan Mitchell and let him go to work.
With Utah's game against Phoenix tied at 95-all with 7.1 seconds remaining on Monday, the Jazz gave the ball to their young star. Mitchell got it deep in the backcourt. His teammates cleared out, Mitchell drove and as he hung in the air, he was fouled with 0.4 seconds left.
He calmly made the first free throw to give the Jazz a 96-95 win over the Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix.
“That’s something we work on,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “The ball is in his hands and we trust him to make a play in space. And he did. He’s been in those situations, he’ll continue to be in them. For him to get to the foul line, whatever he can do to generate a bucket, he’s capable of doing. … We trust him to do those things and he showed why tonight.”
To set up that final play, the Jazz had to scrap. Mike Conley was saddled on the bench for the majority of the first three quarters, Mitchell shot only 9 of 24 on the night and Utah shot just 38% as a team. Throw in the 23 turnovers (15 in the first half) and it was pretty rough night offensively.
Good thing the Jazz have Rudy Gobert and what is currently the league’s stingiest defense. Gobert controlled the paint like normal, Royce O’Neale had some key stops on Suns star Devin Booker and Utah's defense as a whole gave the team a chance to win at the end.
The Jazz held the Suns to 41% shooting and kept a team that had been averaging an absurd 36 points in the fourth quarter to just 25 in the final frame. That latter stat was key to the win. Phoenix led by seven points early in the fourth quarter, but that’s when the Jazz defense locked down enough for the offense to come around a bit.
“We had some really big plays down the stretch, especially our defense generated some offense late,” Snyder said.
With just over two minutes remaining, Gobert stole a bad pass from former teammate Ricky Rubio, starting a fast break that ended with a Mitchell dunk. Mitchell stole a pass on the ensuing Phoneix possession, leading to a transition and-one layup from Bojan Bogdanovic.
That was just one of the key plays Bogdanovic made in the fourth.
With the Jazz down by six midway through the fourth quarter, Bogdanovic drove in, raised up and slammed home a one-handed dunk. A couple of possessions later, Bogdanovic splashed in a deep straightaway 3-pointer. And then converted the 3-point play with 1:45 left to give the Jazz a 95-92 lead.
“He makes it look so easy, so under control, there’s a lot of things I can learn from that,” Mitchell said of Bogdanovic.
Bogdanovic finished with 29 points on 8-of-14 shooting, Mitchell finished with 25 points and Gobert had 15 points and 18 rebounds. Gobert was 11 of 12 from the free-throw line — something that was quite important in a one-point win.
The game was advertised as a battle of old vs. new. Ricky Rubio was facing his former team for the first time since helping the Jazz to the playoffs in two straight seasons. But that battle didn’t materialize until late in the game.
Conley was in foul trouble for much of the night. He picked up two fouls in the opening minutes of the game that forced him to the bench, and picked up his fourth with over 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter. That meant a lot of sitting and not a lot of playing.
Rubio had 10 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. Conley finished with just one point, one assist and three turnovers as he struggled to find a rhythm. But Conley wasn’t alone in that struggle. The Jazz had 10 turnovers in the second quarter alone and 15 in the first half. They forced passes that weren’t there, made careless drives and were just out of sorts. It wasn’t pretty. Good thing they had a defense to make up for it.
Utah became the first team in four seasons to hold their first four opponents to 95 or fewer points.
They’ll try to keep that streak going on Wednesday at home against the Clippers.